How to Outsmart the Snake in Your Office

corn snake coiled on rock

Do you suffer from ophidiophobia? It is a common phobia — the fear of snakes. Before you answer “no” take a moment to think. Because although you might not be afraid of a harmless garter variety, you may be alarmed by an unusual specimen found in many workplaces: the office snake.

You know who I am talking about — that one colleague who seems to revel in subterfuge and backbiting. The one who plays a supporting role in nearly every office conflict and seems oddly at peace with dark and chaotic places. The existence of these wily creatures is one reason we cultivate a drama-free workplace at Aha!

Even if your company makes a concerted effort to banish workplace drama, the occasional snake may slip in. And even more astonishing, they can slither their way right up to a leadership role.

How can you know for sure that an office snake is in your midst? There are a few telltale signs. This person sneaks around, speaking in whispers, gathering secrets, and spreading lies. And they masterfully glide out of trouble just as quickly as they get into it.

You deserve to work hard and be happy. And you should not have to constantly watch for creatures who lurk in the shadows. Is that too much to ask?

Everyone deserves a workplace filled with professional folks, not reptiles. But even if you do discover a snake roaming the halls of your office, all is not lost. You do not have to lash out or engage in treachery.

Here is how you can outsmart the office snake:

Reject venom
The snake will try to inject the team with poison, in an effort to derail plans and advance their own agenda. Do not let those schemes distract your focus. Commit to your goals and stay responsive to your team and your customers. 

Avoid the den
Dirty work can be accomplished without the help of anyone else, but the snake would prefer some company in the dark. Do not follow suit. Instead, embrace truth and transparency. Firmly disengage from the gossip and lies when you hear it.

Learn to charm
I am not suggesting that one kind word will magically render that snake powerless. But remaining a true professional — and choosing not to strike back — can help minimize their power. Once the snake realizes you will not engage, they will likely lose steam. Be the snake charmer. 

With fangs on display and all of that rattling and hissing, it is no wonder that the typical office snake appears threatening. Yes, they can stir up trouble, but this snake does not have the deadly power of a boa or a python.

You see, the office snake thrives on negative attention. Making others feel worse feeds this person’s fragile ego. So the next time a colleague starts whipping up everyone’s emotions, just chalk it up to self-centeredness and insecurity.

Stay true to yourself and commit to your goals. Invest in building the team up, not tearing people down. No matter what your role is, you can be a part of creating a work environment where reptiles cannot survive.

Have you dealt with snakes in your workplace?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Kaye

    This is such a great post. I wish I’d read it a few months ago before the (known!) snake in the office, finally managed to strike.

    It’s been a really hard couple of months…especially dealing with the fact that this person lied about me, and is still there spreading poison and disrupting the teams I tried so hard to protect.

    However….as a Scrum Master (and I hope, good human being!), I know that I tried to do the right thing. Karma will find him one day.

    1. Curtis

      Due to the very nature of the job, emotional intelligence and empathy are required if one wishes to be very successful as a Scrum Master. The desire to help and act as a servant leader draws empaths to that position. Their mindset can be described as: “Helping and growing others is my purpose.”
      Very often, narcissistic and sociopathic individuals either have little empathy, or suppress empathy, probably out of a perceived need to be strong and resilient as a survival mechanism. Therefore, they are focused heavily on their own pleasure, power, protection, and success. Their mindset can be described as: “Promoting and enjoying myself is my purpose.” It seems that many managers and executives have enjoyed “success” as a result of sociopathic behaviors.
      This often puts the empathic scrum masters on an inevitable conflict with the sociopathic and apathetic managers and their minions.
      The key to surviving this dynamic is to depersonalize the conflict. Proactively gather input, comments, impediments, etc. from the TEAM. Document and present them as coming from the TEAM, and not from the scrum master. This enables you, as an empathetic servant-leader, to address the issues as a neutral messenger (Most companies at least claim to support the practice: “Don’t kill the messenger!”).

  2. LeeAnne

    This is very well written. I wish I had read this two months ago. I remained professional with this individual everyday, but when he lied openly in a meeting to 45 people and took total credit for my work (at board of directors meeting), I no longer could manage his unethical behavior and dishonesty.

    After the meeting I called him on it.… And I paid dearly. Your best advice… “But remaining a true professional — and choosing not to strike back — can help minimize their power. “. Too late for me, but thank you!

  3. Will

    learn to charm*.

    Why is our society obsessed with pleasing the bullies and bottomfeeders?

    Snakes are made because people are to weak to step on them when they have the chance.

    Today’s PC society is a complete joke.

  4. Lisa

    Reading everyones comments has been quite interesting. As I feel as a person who deals with the public on a daily basis we all have to deal with the public in many ways. Snakes in the work place work in many different ways, many make out something they are not , professionalism in the work place should be just that . unfortunately a snake in the work place usually sits quietly strikes out when u least exspect has an alliance, loves to win at all cost doing anything they can to put other staff at risk of succeeding to push out the opposition. Which puts doubt into the team as where and who they can trust to make a business team succeed . if a person is appointed wrongly it could be the make or brake of that business.

  5. Jennifer

    Bleh, I work with THREE snakes in the grass… they are all constantly spying on eachother, talking behind eachother’s backs, pulling double standard tricks – and they always try to drag me “into the nest” so to speak! It’s quite awful when you’re surrounded by them and there is no escape – even the boss is one of them. I’ve been with the company for a long time, and from the start the boss has done sneaky underhanded things to both her employees and to our clients. She has no boss to oversee her awful actions, so she gets away with everything.

    Dealing with these people has virtually turned me mute. I’m cordial and try to keep discussions work-related, but for the most part I don’t talk or interact much with them. They act incredibly suspicious of me, because I think they sense I see through all their BS, and refuse to play their games. Since I’m a diligent worker and the clients appreciate me, they have trouble finding dirt or scandalous things to call me out on – and this bothers them. The worst part is, they hardly do any actual work. They play around online, make dramatic personal phone calls, whisper to eachother, and their entire day centers around messing with other people trying to get them in trouble. Being around such negative, narcissistic ego-maniacs is slowly destroying my very soul! Luckily I have been working on other business prospects and hopefully will be able to escape within the next few years.


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